Technology matters because it is inseparable from being human. We have used tools for more than 100,000 years, and their central purpose has not always been to provide necessities. People excel at using old tools to solve new problems and at inventing new tools for more elegant solutions to old tasks. Perhaps this is because we are intimate with devices and machines from an early age – as children, we play with technological toys: trucks, cars, stoves, telephones, model railroads, Playstations. Through these machines we imagine ourselves into a creative relationship with the world. As adults, we retain this technological playfulness with gadgets and appliances – Blackberries, cell phones, GPS navigation systems in our cars.
We use technology to shape our world, yet we think little about the choices we are making. In Technology Matters, I describe ten central questions about our relationship to technology, integrating a half-century of ideas about technology and discussing wide-ranging historical examples from many societies.
I do not pretend to have definitive answers to the questions I pose. But I do give well-considered opinions. Here are examples of contentions I defend: necessity is quite often not the mother of invention but the reverse; the uses of technologies are generally unpredictable; people use them not to create uniformity but diversity; individual devices usually are designed to be safer over time, but the risk of accidents does not therefore decrease; military technologies have made warfare increasingly safe for soldiers and fatal to civilians; we are deeply encapsulated in a cocoon of technological conveniences, but we still want to use new machines to get closer to nature.